OK, to be completely superficial (and when a play skewers showbiz so adroitly, why not?), Island City Stage’s The Little Dog Laughed features one of the best looking casts you’ll find on a South Florida stage in this or any other season.
You should also know that, when it comes to acting chops, the performers in Douglas Carter Beane’s edgy comedy are just as skilled as they are attractive.
Beane’s play premiered Off-Broadway in early 2006 and had its South Florida debut at GableStage seven years ago. The world has evolved since then, somewhat, so that the idea of a gay actor on the brink of movie stardom being relentlessly pressured to stay in the closet seems at least a tiny bit less likely. That said, Beane’s intricately plotted, layered script remains hilarious and, when it should be, touching.
Carbonell Award winner Michael Leeds, one of the region’s finest directors, plumbs the dizzying comedic heights and dramatic depths of Beane’s play, adroitly moving it beat to beat so that every facet of the plot gets its due. Though the actors’ timing could still use the teensiest Hollywood nip-and-tuck, Leeds has crafted a production that’s hilarious and, at just the right moment, deeply moving.
Chris Crawford, fresh off his Carbonell win for his work in the dark Murder Ballad at Actors’ Playhouse, plays rising star Mitchell Green. Mitchell is so firmly in the closet that, when sober, he’ll deliver delusional blather about not really being gay, just enjoying doing certain things with guys. But given that our first sighting of Mitchell finds him gloriously drunk and welcoming a gorgeous rent boy into his hotel room, his sexual orientation might as well be written in neon.
Said rent boy, a sculpted hottie named Alex (Michael Uribe), purports to be straight but turns male tricks to pay his rent. His girlfriend Ellen (Ashley Chang) works her own relationship with an aging author to her economic advantage, but once that arrangement comes to an abrupt end, her casual deal with Alex gets more complicated.
Serving as narrator, deconstructor and deliverer of Beane’s most acid-dipped lines is Mia Matthews, one of the stars of Nickelodeon’s Every Witch Way. Statuesque, slender and stunning, Matthews plays Mitchell’s agent Diane, a lesbian who’s too busy working every trick in the Hollywood playbook to bother with a personal life. Matthews’ line readings are delicious, darts that would be lethal if they weren’t so funny.
Her fellow actors are just as good.
Crawford is hilariously in synch with Matthews as the two try to woo a Hollywood-averse gay playwright (unseen) into selling them the movie rights to his hit play as a starring vehicle for Mitchell. And when he’s on the verge of a breakdown, feeling pressure from all sides, Crawford partners with Uribe in a moment so raw and real that you choke up.
The handsome, sculpted Uribe and the purposefully kooky Chang are young actors, but Leeds has helped both deliver compelling performances as drifting-through-life, emotionally stunted not-quite-grownups. Chang, a recent New World School of the Arts grad, and Uribe, making his professional stage debut, are actors worth watching as their careers move forward.
Island City’s award-winning design team — set designer Michael McClain, lighting designer Preston Bircher, sound designer David Hart and costume designer Peter A. Lovello — delivers a sleek, chic playground of a world in the small performance space at Empire Stage. Next fall, Island City will move to the Abyss Theatre, a larger space owned by the Infinite Abyss company in Wilton Manors, presenting even more options to Island City’s creative team.
Its production of The Little Dog Laughed underscores just why Island City has come so far so fast. The direction, acting and design are first-rate, reliably so. The company is hewing to its mission of delivering compelling LGBT/progressive-themed works, and it’s doing so at a level that makes Island City an increasingly significant player in South Florida theater.
If you go
What: ‘The Little Dog Laughed’ by Douglas Carter Beane.
Where: Island City Stage production at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr., Fort Lauderdale.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday, through May 17.
Information: 954-519-2533 or www.islandcitystage.org.